Posts by slapin

Sloppy Shoes and Donald Trump

August 15th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 49 comments

What is wrong with the following scenario? Mr. and Mrs. Jones have three children. Over the course of a week, each of the children leaves his or her shoes lying in the middle of the living room floor. Mr.and Mrs. Jones ignore the first child’s messiness rationalizing that she is in the middle of finals. Mr. and Mrs. Jones excuse the second child’s carelessness because his girlfriend just broke up with him and he’s feeling down. Mr. and Mrs. Jones confiscate the third child’s shoes, berating her for being so sloppy.

You don’t have to be a parenting expert or in favor of shoes being left lying around to recognize that something is off-kilter in the above family. That is why I was not upset by President Trump’s tweet following the criminal car-ramming in Virginia on Saturday, August 13. While the President was lambasted for initially condemning hatred and violence “on many sides”  rather than singling out white supremacists, I didn’t take it that way.

Granted, I have no idea what goes on in President Trump’s mind and I don’t think that we are exactly “kindred spirits,” but wasn’t ready to jump on the indictment bandwagon. In fact, once emotions of the day have subsided, I wish he would give a serious, thoughtful speech explaining that there is a problem when marginalized people on one end of a spectrum are used to condemn large groups of Americans.

Here is a quote from one newspaper article about the gathering that ended in violence. “The group had gathered to protest plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, and another arrived to protest the racism.” In other words, wanting a statue of Robert E. Lee to remain where it has stood for many years is inherently racist. No! It is not. It may be something that should be challenged and discussed, but ascribing racism as the only reason for opposing the statue’s removal is wrong. Was the side General Lee chose during the Civil War a side that supported slavery? Yes. But it is a sad comment on the lack of education, wisdom and discernment on the part of people today that we aren’t able to handle the complexities that surrounded the heinous sin of slavery amidst other issues including states’ rights. Maybe a generation that gets their political understanding from late night entertainment shows should grow up before demanding an overthrow of history?

In a country where we hear the comment, “His motives are unknown,” when someone yells Allahu Akbar while murdering people and where those who speak of killing all white people or who attack people because they’re white get no media attention, there seems to be only one association that leads to  immediate and virulent condemnation. I’m certainly not in favor or neo-Nazis or white supremacists. But, something is wrong with a scenario that not only sees them as the only violent or hateful people in America, but wantonly includes millions of upstanding citizens among their number.  In America today, child #1 gets away with anything as does child #2.  Only child #3 is criticized.  All the time.

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How far does the 5th Commandment go?

August 9th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 13 comments

Does the 5th commandment also apply to relatives who had a major role in my life?

I am very new to the Jewish teachings. Pastor Larry Huch talked about you and said you were good friends so I looked you up on the internet and have been listening to you since. In all my 13 years in church, I have never heard anyone teach what you teach. I appreciate the materials you make available to all.

Here is a matter that I need to lay to rest.

I was born and raised in the Ivory Coast, a country with too many ethnic divisions. My mom told me in the tradition of their ethnic heritage the aunt (the mother’s sister) is really my mother. That’s what they have been believing for years. So that’s how in 1998, my aunt and her husband who had 3 sons, paid my way to come and live with them in the U.S. b/c “she doesn’t have any daughter” my mom told me. I was 15 and left my parents, siblings and friends back in the Ivory Coast.

My relatives paid my way through high school and college. At a price. I was the one doing all the household chores out of duty. Cooking, cleaning up after them, doing dishes on Christian holidays while her husband and sons play video games and surf the internet. In all honesty, I spent 10 miserable years living with them and do not remember a happy day. I don’t like their personalities and being around them. There was always the “you owe us” attitude.

Fast forward today, I live alone and The Good Lord has given me a job. I still have my mother in the Ivory Coast that I take care of on a regular basis. My dad is 73 and retired. They are divorced and both of them do not have any financial savings. So their financial help falls on me b/c my 2 siblings are not helping at all. The younger, 30 years old, has cut contact with the family and the older, 36 years old only cares about her.

I feel a financial obligation only toward my relatives (even though, I did not live with them for free) b/c they paid my way through school, along with food, housing, clothes, medical bills etc… so I send them some money, when I can on an irregular basis but according to them, it is not enough. My aunt doesn’t want to work so she stays home all day and her husband makes a six figure salary, more than me. Their 3 sons are living their own lives. My mom tells me I need to do what they are supposed to do and I refuse to shoulder their responsibilities toward their own parents.

I don’t have enough finances to take care of 2 sets of parents and build a life of my own. I don’t feel a “5th commandment” mandate toward my aunt and my uncle. They consider themselves as my parents but I do not. My mind has never accepted them as my mother and father according to their ethnic tradition. The 5th commandment only applies to my mother in the Ivory Coast and my 73 year old retired father.

What does the Torah and ancient Jewish wisdom have to say about this kind of situation? 

Thank you for helping.

Neal

Dear Neal,

We tend to shy away from letters as long as yours, but we found your story so riveting that we made an exception. We are also tremendously fond of Pastors Larry and Tiz Huch, and appreciate that you found us through them.

One of the issues you raise is the challenges that come up when someone replaces one cultural or religious tradition with another one. This is a common theme that plays out when a child immigrates to a new country with its own way of life. The pattern and understanding that an aunt is like your mother, isn’t one that you accept. While this may be painful for your family to hear, the “rules” they are holding over your head don’t apply to you.

Another issue you raise has to do with the understanding of what ‘honoring parents’ entails. One of the reasons that Torah observant Jews have a rabbi who is familiar with their personal situation is because that very general statement needs to be translated into specifics. While certain principles apply in all cases, such as addressing parents in a respectful manner, other concepts such as defining required financial support will vary according to the individual circumstances.

The Torah does not accept the idea of entitlements but rather works on the principle of obligation. Not even your parents can demand that they are entitled to your money; the question is what your obligation is. This may seem to be a semantic difference, but it removes emotional blackmail from the picture. You must shoulder whatever obligations you have, but those obligations are not based on the desires of either your parents or relatives. In fact, the majority of what ancient Jewish wisdom sees as the financial laws of honoring parents makes use of the parents’ financial resources, not the child’s.

You sound like a lovely and strong person with a keen sense of responsibility. You might want to discuss your particular situation with your spiritual leader, but our bird’s-eye-view answer is that you are not obligated to provide the support that is being demanded from you.

We hope that you find a group of Christian-minded friends and  a spouse who can fill in the emotional gaps from your childhood.

Wishing you all the best,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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The Bluest Skies

August 4th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind 3 comments

The bluest skies – are not – in Seattle, amazingly enough. We landed here last night and there is a smoky haze obscuring the sky and much else due to fires in British Columbia. Years of experience tell us that the skies are still blue and the water is still actually glistening. It’s just obscured right now. We need to see past the haze, just as we need to do with much else in life.

Years of Our Discontent

August 3rd, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 35 comments

It is funny what sticks in your mind, isn’t it? Over 25 years ago, I heard my father-in-law ask in a tone that managed to be both amused and acerbic, why people couldn’t simply serve roast chicken every Friday night. At the time, my sympathies went to the woman who had innocently asked him whether a certain item only available in a specialty Japanese store was kosher. While not a gourmet cook like she was, I do vary the dishes served at my Shabbat table; my family and I would be bored with the same exact meal week after week.

My mother-in-law, like my mother and grandmothers offered no such variety. For them, being able to afford and have access to kosher chicken was in itself the special Friday night treat. How could anyone want more than chicken soup, roast chicken, and a simple side dish? They lived in different times.

I enjoy experimenting with new Shabbat recipes and while certain holidays cry out for specific traditional dishes, it is unusual for us to have exactly the same meal two weeks in a row. Yet, something I recently read made me recall my father-in-law’s lament and relate to it with greater understanding.

What spurred my realization was discovering that I had completely—I mean totally, without a clue—missed out on hearing about the trend of ‘late-in-life lesbians’. While this trend is obviously elementary compared to the politically correct idea that there are 31, no, actually 56, no wait, its 72 (the number changes almost daily) genders, perhaps the comparative simplicity of the idea caused me to laugh.

How unbelievably unhappy and confused we are. In Richard III, William Shakespeare wrote of “the winter of our discontent.” Today, we seem to be living through years of discontent. There are many real challenges in the world. Venezuelans are starving, people around the world are being killed by Islamic extremists, serious illnesses abound and too many children are born into situations that make successful living a terrible struggle, to name only a few. There are those who are born with discernible physical and genetic gender confusion.

And then, there are those of us born basically healthy and, even in difficult economic times, living shockingly well. Instead of counting our blessings, for decades now we have been busily looking for reasons to be unhappy. We don’t just seek to improve and tweak our society but to radically change: our marriages, our schools, our economic system, our beliefs, our gender…

I don’t think we can lay the blame for this on serving lemon chicken one week and potato-crusted chicken another. I plan to keep enjoying trying out new recipes. Yet, it isn’t completely unrelated either. Somehow, when there isn’t a counter-balance to the natural desire for excitement and newness, when we confusedly think that happiness can be delivered by someone or something outside of ourselves, and when we lose touch with our souls and magnify the demands of our bodies, we find ourselves on a road that has no natural end. Our rebellions may take different forms, but one warning that is very modern and up-to-date is found in Deuteronomy 32:15  explaining how instead of feeling gratitude when showered with blessings, humans tend to kick rather than kneel.

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Brains, Heart and Courage

July 27th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 47 comments

Wednesday morning’s Wall Street Journal crossword puzzle had the following clue: “Cowardly lion’s lack.” As a child, I watched the Wizard of Oz annually on TV followed by recurring nightmares, but it has been many years since I saw it. As I dredged my memory, I remembered the Scarecrow wanting a brain and the Tin Man needing a heart, but it took a few seconds to translate the lion’s desire for courage into the five-letter word, nerve.

I used to regularly read the Wall Street Journal over breakfast. Since they introduced their crossword puzzle in the main section, that gets my attention first. Instead of frustrating and depressing news, my brain gets a work-out. But this clue led me down the path of  replacing the words ‘cowardly lion’ with Republican Congress. Actually, the Republicans need brains, heart and courage, qualities they either lack or hide from sight (conceal: 23 across).

I understand that most politicians of both parties want to ensure their own re-election. Maybe it is even true that overall they will be better for the country than ‘the other guy,’ even if to do so they need to hide, duck (evade: 14 down), weave and bob from tough positions. Some are good people and hard workers who just aren’t articulate; others don’t even realize how enmeshed they are in a corrupting system that confers unhealthy levels of power. Most politicians don’t have what it takes to be truly visionary and wise leaders. But for a party to have not even one person who can stand up and cut through the fog to speak passionately about healthcare in a forceful, caring and intelligent way? That party is an embarrassment.

Perhaps it isn’t a coincidence that the movie Dunkirk is showing now. I haven’t seen it, but World War II is a part of history that is somewhat known to most people. Here is a tragic fact about war. When soldiers in World War II marched off to fight, they knew that they might not come back. The sweethearts, wives and children they left behind might end up filling the resulting void in their lives with someone not as worthy as the soldier who sacrificed his life. Going to war was still the right thing to do. In the bigger picture, it was the only thing to do for the sake of those very sweethearts, wives and children. The survival of their nation was at stake.

Healthcare is a huge issue that cannot be reduced to slogans. The slogans the Obama administration used to push it were often intentional lies such as, “If you like the plan you have, you can keep it. If you like the doctor you have, you can keep your doctor, too.”  Any reasonable person could see that wouldn’t be the case. That anyone principled or intelligent could vote for a plan that their leader, Nancy Pelosi, said had to be passed before it could be understood is downright mind-boggling.

Most Americans understand that no plan will be perfect. But if each and every politician would vote by placing brains, heart and courage above the desire to be re-elected or to amass money and/or power, we could start down a path to actually improving health-care in this nation. And yes, on this and other pressing issues, while clearly we, thank God, are not at war in a literal sense, I do think national survival is at stake. The two political parties currently represent dramatically different paths for the country. While the establishments of both parties are out of touch with regular Americans, decisions being made today will lead America on a path that embraces the country’s founding ideals or overturns them.

If politicians lose their next election, they still have lives to live (with cushy pensions).  That option is often not available to those who patriotically marched (and continue to march) off to any of our country’s wars. That the Republicans don’t have a Churchill is clear, but surely the Chamberlains should be disgraced.

I apologize for my tone. I know I sound utterly frustrated and quite disgusted with both political parties. I am. At least on this question, most Americans agree.

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How My Israeli Children Are Different from Me – guest post

July 25th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind 1 comment

I love reading the blog posts of a woman who writes from Israel under the name “Jewish Mom.” She has given permission to repost what she wrote after the slaughter of the Salomon family at their home on Friday night. I have put an asterisk next to terms that may be unfamiliar to many of you and written a glossary at the bottom. I apologize if that makes the article more difficult to read, but I think it very worthwhile.

When I was growing up in Baltimore, I learned which neighborhoods were safe and which neighborhoods were dangerous. Which places I could go to, and which places I should carefully avoid.

And since I moved to Israel 24 years ago, I’ve been doing the same thing.

When I heard that 2 Israeli police officers had been shot to death and, later, there was rioting in and surrounding the Old City, I shook my head with concern and decided to nix the outing I had been planning to daven* this week at the Kotel*. When I heard that 3 members of the Solomon family celebrating the Shalom Zachar* of a newborn baby boy, were murdered by an Arab terrorist around the corner from my daughter’s high school in Neve Tsuf, I got more scared and started keeping our doors and windows locked at all times.

Looking out for Number One, just like when I was growing up.

But my kids and kids around Israel have been responding differently to the recent tragedies here…

Yesterday, my bat mitzvah girl’s summer camp cancelled their planned outing to the Jerusalem Forest and took all the girls to the Kotel instead.

Another daughter’s youth group decided to move the location of the scavenger hunt they had planned from downtown Jerusalem to the Old City.

And it’s not just my kids.

Yesterday, several high school girls approached me and my daughter when we were in a store and handed us a slip of paper they had prepared with a psalm, urging us to read it for the safety and security of Am Yisrael*.

Then this morning at the light-rail station, some elementary school girls handed me a toffee attached to a note that read, “The Race to a Million Blessings: Say a blessing over this toffee for the elevation of the souls of the Solomon family victims HY”D*.”

Seeing how my kids and their peers are reacting to current events has made me realize that when I get scared, I do what I did when I was growing up. I look out for Number One. I stay away from the Old City, I lock my doors, I nervously check out the Arab passengers standing beside me on the light rail (that man’s too old to pull out a knife, that woman’s with her baby, so there’s no way she’s about to start stabbing people with a pair of scissors.)

And these Israeli kids, in their own way, are also looking out of Number One. But their Number One, I’m realizing, is different than mine. For them, their Number One is Am Yisrael* and Eretz Yisrael*. The Jewish people and the Land of Israel. And praying for Hashem’s protection and mercy upon them.

A year and a half ago there was a terror attack next to the Old City’s Jaffa Gate, and the young father of a large family was brutally murdered while walking home from work. That Friday night, my then 15-year-old daughter informed me after candle-lighting that she and her friends were going to daven at a minyan* next to Jaffa Gate that night.

And I told her: “You can’t go to Jaffa Gate! There was just a terror attack there yesterday!”

“Eema*,” she responded slowly, as if speaking to someone who didn’t fully understand her language, “of course I know there was a terror attack there. That’s why we’re going there!”

I recently heard a French-born father of 11 Israeli children speaking about what it’s like moving to Israel. And this what he said:

“Moving to Israel is like climbing a very high mountain. You are climbing and climbing, you are breathing hard and sweating from the steep climb. And then you achieve the impossible–you reach the top. And when you get there, you sit down to catch your breath, and you turn around and find your children sitting there, at the peak.

‘How did you possibly make the climb up here? It was so steep and high and difficult!’ you ask them.

And your children answer you, ‘We didn’t have to climb at all. We were born here.’”

*Glossary:

daven: pray

Kotel: The Western Wall; The Wailing Wall

Shalom Zachar: a celebration that takes place the Friday night after a baby’s birth

HY”D: God will avenge their blood

Am Yisrael: the nation (people) of Israel

Eretz Yisrael: the land of Israel

minyan: a prayer group

Eema: Hebrew for Mommy

 

Self-Made Women

July 20th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 15 comments

The cover story headline on Forbes magazine, America’s Richest Self-Made Women caught my attention. Surely, the stories of the sixty women listed would shine a light on women and money. It did, though I’m not sure that what I saw will make social engineers happy.

Here are some sentences from the top four bios:

#1) Ilitch and her husband, Mike…cofounded Little Caesars pizza… (Marian Ilitch)

#2) The Wisconsin native cofounded the business with her late husband, Ken… ( Diane Hendricks)

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I’m Not Scary; Are You?

July 13th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 68 comments

There is a blog I regularly read because doing so makes me a better person. In it, a mother details with great honesty her emotions and experiences as she and her husband raise a son with serious disabilities and a, thankfully, healthy daughter.

She and I have never met, yet she is afraid of me and my family. Afraid of our support for repealing Obamacare, of our support for President Trump and of our conservative leanings.

I have two children in the medical profession. They talk of their emotions and experiences as they are hindered and frustrated by a bloated, bureaucratic and unsustainable system. They talk of their emotions and experiences as they try to help seriously ill patients and are instead forced to tend to those abusing the system, unnecessarily consuming tens of thousands of dollars and hours of human resources. They  talk of their emotions and experiences at caring for patients who act self-destructively, thus counteracting the help they have just been given, after monopolizing resources that, subsequently, were not available for others. My children have never met the woman whose blog I read. They are not afraid of her, but they see her voting patterns and liberal leanings as harmful to them and those for whom they care.

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Thousands will Die

July 13th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

The pop-up on my computer suggests that  I contact my Congressmen to tell him not to tangle with Obamacare. Seemingly, the same Republicans who years ago wanted to push Grandma off a cliff in a wheelchair (I don’t even remember which election cycle that was from)  are now planning to kill thousands. Where is the pop-up asking me to contact my Congressmen to ask those who support Obamacare or think it didn’t go far enough in socializing medicine whether they look forward to an American Charlie Gard case, where bureaucrats will tell parents where, when and how their children will live or die?

Good Job – Not

July 6th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 82 comments

It is possible that I am simply being curmudgeonly and persnickety, and I’m sure you’ll tell me if that is so, but there are two popular phrases that I would like to rail against. Working with my husband on our Ask the Rabbi column regarding self-esteem vs. self-respect made me wonder if both these ubiquitous phrases are misguided results of the disastrous self-esteem movement.

The first one, “My bad,” has replaced the words “I’m sorry” or “I take responsibility” in many offices. Am I alone in thinking that those words trivialize careless mistakes and poor judgment?

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